Facebook Twitter

When to disclose latest pay to a prospective boss

Divulging figure too soon may take you out of the running

SHARE When to disclose latest pay to a prospective boss

To tell or not to tell a prospective employer how much you make: That is the question.

With apologies to William Shakespeare, this dilemma lacks a simple solution. Many businesses demand to know applicants' latest pay during early stages of their hiring processes. Recent salary history exposes disconnects with titles listed on a resume and weeds out poor fits.

But should you divulge every cent you earn? You risk being knocked out of the running as overqualified — or inexperienced. Should you instead dodge premature pay queries? Then you risk being knocked out of the running because you seem too secretive.

"There's no way of knowing for sure if disclosing or withholding is the best strategy," says Jack Chapman, author of "Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute," and a Wilmette, Ill., career coach. "You're dealing with potential rejection either way."

When weighing what to do, experts say, it helps to take into account the desired job's level, the duration of the vacancy, the extent of rival contenders, the scarcity of your skills and your insights about the opening's likely salary.

And candid money talk with outside recruiters is almost always a good idea. "Blowing off the compensation question creates bad chemistry with the recruiter," cautions Patricia Cook, head of an executive-search boutique in Bronxville, N.Y. Thirteen times during her 22-year recruiting career, Cook has encountered qualified prospects who refused to tell her their pay. She presented the 12 women and one man to corporate clients. But none became a finalist.

Before baring your bucks to a recruiter, though, try to persuade him to gauge your worth. You might ask, "What's the most money that my skills would command in the marketplace?" If the number falls short of your latest paycheck, you can provide solid reasons why you're being paid more.

If you appear relatively underpaid, describe hefty raises and bonuses that you pocketed during boom times. Emphasize that bad business conditions rather than your individual performance were to blame.

You can also turn the tables on a nosey hiring manager. Inquire about the budgeted salary range for the targeted spot. Say whether that range matches your qualifications and personal needs. Express eagerness to negotiate your next package once it's clear you're the preferred pick. A good "postponing phrase speaks confidence in being hired," Chapman's book suggests.

But this ploy doesn't always work. A corporate trainer wanted to avoid revealing his pay when he sought employment with a New York-area information-services company in fall 2004. "I did try to get around it by saying, 'I'm hoping for a fair offer,' " the Long Island resident remembers. He also asked about the projected pay range.

Ignoring his query, the head of training insisted on learning his current salary. He said he was paid about $114,000 a year. Offered $118,000, he requested a slightly larger sum. The concern abruptly dropped its offer. "We're not happy you asked for more money," one official said. The trainer now wonders whether he divulged his compensation too soon.

Terrance McDermott, a marketing manager at a Chicago financial-services company, intends to provide a desired range rather than his precise pay during future job hunts. "If the (actual) number is going to take me out of the running, I'm going to dance around it as best I can," he explains.

While unemployed last spring, McDermott told an Internet business the amount he earned at his prior employer, a mutual-fund firm. "That's a nonstarter for us," snapped the hiring manager, cutting short his interview. McDermott later discovered he had made 15 percent more than she was willing to offer.

It's tempting to exaggerate your pay package. Numerous job seekers inflate the figure, typically by including their bonus target and the value of perquisites.

Bill Davidson did the opposite to land job interviews during a difficult job market. In 2004, the former information-technology director applied to be a project manager at Postini in San Carlos, Calif. He informed the e-mail-filtering concern that his last cash compensation totaled about $100,000. The real number was $140,000.

Davidson accepted the $88,000 post. He says he admitted his deception a month after he joined Postini — without repercussions.

As a rule, though, you should never fib your way into a new workplace. "People will pull offers for a clear lie about pay," warns Lee E. Miller, co-host of "Your CareerDoctors.com," an Internet radio show. Some companies require final pay stubs or income-tax forms to verify salary.

Should pay-history queries be outlawed? The practice "is unfair on its face — and has the effect of prolonging discrimination due to race, gender and age," contends Ted Turnasella, a compensation consultant in West Islip, N.Y. He is lobbying state lawmakers to introduce a bill that would bar employers from posing the question during interviews or on job applications.